If we don’t try to Contain Somalia, we Shall Rue it

 

THE SOMALI GOVERNMENT is seeking international support to fight off the extremist forces that are steadily putting a chokehold on Mogadishu.

Not many countries would want to get sucked into the Somali quagmire at this stage, so President whatsisname, might be better-off seeking divine intervention.

The problem is that the forces that threaten to kick him out of the capital claim to have more reliable lines upstairs.
If the transitional government of Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed falls to the al Shabaab fighters, we have reason to be afraid, very afraid.
We will have at our doorstep an extremist Islamist regime that has fashioned itself as the East African bridgehead for Osama bin Laden’s international terrorist network, al Qaeda.

We will have to contend with a group committed to expanding its warped ideology by way of indiscriminate terror.

And we will have in power a group that openly espouses the aims of Somali irredentism, one key plank being the annexation of Kenya’s North Eastern Province and the Ogaden region of neighbouring Ethiopia that is also populated by a Somali-speaking community.

We have been worrying about Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni’s expansionist designs in the occupation of a tiny outcrop on Lake Victoria we believe is ours. Migingo — a name local wags have adopted for some part of the human anatomy — Island is chickenfeed compared to the kind of threat we face from Somalia.

Even before we peer into Mogadishu, we need to keep an eye on the creeping invasion that has already occurred. Somalis from across the border have overrun vast swathes of the city, taking control of property and commerce in Eastleigh and are now spreading across the central business district and selected suburbs.

Some may be legitimate merchants, but we must wonder how many are extremist “sleepers” just waiting for the signal.
Kenya has key strategic interest in the Somalia situation and cannot afford to sit idly by hoping that other countries will step in and contain the extremist hordes while we cower behind non-existent shields.

We must recognise that threat and move swiftly and firmly to contain it. Options, however, are very limited.
We were busy running for cover a couple of years ago when Ethiopia moved in muscularly to oust the then Islamic Courts Union administration so that the transitional government, a puny device cobbled together in Kenya, could claim control of Mogadishu.

KENYA PLAYED ITS ROLE BEHIND the scenes as a silent ally of Ethiopia and its Americans patrons. Since them, however, Islamists have rebounded with an even more virulent and extremist form in Al Shabaab.

The vaunted Ethiopian military machine has withdrawn, and the African Union troops in Mogadishu have only a token presence that will not resists any determined armed force.

The United Nations will never be able to do much more than the AU. As for the Americans, they suffered a bloody nose in Mogadishu many years ago and will not dare put their soldiers in harm’s way again, maybe, at best limiting themselves to long range missile strikes and a few covert operations.

So we are on our own, seeing the threat building up and doing very little. At least, Kenya could play a leading role in co-ordinating an international response to the Somali crisis, one that abandons all the pussyfooting and moves aggressively to protect the transitional government and drive out the militants.

Frankly, that will not happen at the AU or UN level. The other alternative is to put together an alliance of countries in the region that recognise the threat posed by religious extremism and terrrorist sympathisers.

Kenya and Ethiopia are natural allies here, both being targets of the Greater Somalia dream. Uganda, which forms the bulk of the AU forces in Mogadishu, would probably also come on board.

The mission would be nothing less than a full-scale military intervention, with or without AU or UN blessing. This is an option that must be considered before it is too late.

But if no one has the stomach for a fight, then the only viable option is to accept the emerging realities and reach out to the Islamists.
Perhaps once they are settled in power, they will be keen to win recognition and acceptance as responsible members of the global family.

By MACHARIA GAITHOPosted Monday, May 25 2009
mgaitho@nation.co.ke